Adding up twenty-five years

On Tuesday of this week, my husband and I celebrated twenty-five years of marriage.  I have spent more than half of my life with this man!  Twenty-five years!  When I was only twenty-four, I had no idea how things would add up over the years

Eleven addresses — that’s right, we’ve lived in Ferndale, Auburn Hills, Coldwater, Jackson, and Ann Arbor, Michigan and in St. Louis, Missouri.  In two of those places we’ve had more than one address! We’ve lived in spaces from 800 square feet to over 2000 square feet.  We have moved eleven times, folks — and we’re still married!

Five kids — ok, I got one with the marriage, but we’ve added three by birth and one by marriage in the last twenty-five years.  Best of all, we’ve added a granddaughter! (We refuse to count all the diapers that these children required or all of the hours spent tending to sick ones!)

Two pets — our dearly departed Mikey, and our current cuddler, Chester.

Three graduate degrees — one for me, two for him!  We won’t mention all the dollars we have spent on education, we’ll let you imagine that on your own!

So many vehicles — from the tiny little Ford Festiva that we dubbed the ‘wind-up car’ to the GMC Safari that could carry all of us and all of our stuff to our current cute little Suze Cruze.

Thousands and thousands of miles we have driven from Michigan to New Jersey to New York to Niagara to Georgia to Colorado to Minnesota to Missouri to Tennessee to Texas and back to Michigan again.

One mission trip to Haiti and one mission in St. Louis.

Five home congregations, but so many more that we’ve visited!

So many friends!

So many positions — teaching, and preaching, and counseling, and tutoring, and that one summer when I did the Census! (Oh, and let’s not forget all the times we have been summoned for jury duty!)

Too many speeding tickets (mostly me) and too many parking citations (also me).

We’ve run hundreds of miles together, and now we’re walking even more. We’ve eaten tons of food together, and drank our share of beer, wine, coffee, and tea. We’ve had So. Much. Popcorn. But, wait, that’s all me.

We’ve disagreed.  We’ve argued.  We’ve irritated one another.  We’ve hurt one another and forgiven one another.

We’ve had rough days, rough weeks, and even a few rough years.  Most couples do.

But we’ve also had great days, great weeks, and even a few excellent years. Some couples do.

We’ve worked too hard, moved too fast, and forgotten to cherish the little things, but, in our older age, we are learning to work smarter, move slower, and notice the stuff that matters the most.

Just this year, we have started a tradition that we call ‘walkabout’.  We take the bus downtown with no intended agenda, no time constraints, and no responsibility.  We walk about for hours checking out people, places, and things.  We drink excellent coffee or tea, we eat snacks and and sometimes a meal, we usually have a glass of wine, then we take the bus home.  It’s not glamorous, but it’s fabulous.  It’s time together celebrating the fact that we still like to spend time together, still like to explore together, and still have fun together. That, my friends, can’t be measured or counted.  It can only be treasured.

We ain’t perfect. That’s sure.  But we have been incredibly blessed.  Here’s to twenty-five more.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Praying for Healing?

So, a few days ago I ended my blog post with the scripture from Matthew 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”  Sounds simple, right?

I mean, didn’t I just write on Thursday about all the prayers that had been answered?  I have seen the beauty of ask and receive, but in one area I am struggling.

My husband and I have a dear pastor friend — no, he’s more than that.  I will call him a spiritual father — especially to my husband.  He is a prayer pioneer who has spent more hours on his knees than anyone else I know. Since he heard about my illness he has prayed for me every day.  Every. Single. Day. Several months ago he passed a book to me through my husband called How Can I Ask God for Physical Healing? So, knowing that it was from the man who we deeply respect and love, I opened and began reading it immediately, right?  Nope. I actually stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it.

Why?  Well, my reasoning has been that although my physical health is suffering, many areas of my life are much healthier than they have ever been.  Why would I beg God to take something away that He has used to create dramatic change in my life?  I mean, if He heals me, I will probably just go back to my butt-kicking, name-taking habits, right?

When I received this book I thought to myself, “(Sigh), I am not one of those name it and claim it type of people. If God decides to heal me, great.  If He decides not to, that’ll be ok, too.”  I mean, yes, my life is very different than it once was.  I move more slowly, my thoughts get a bit cloudy, some of my activities are limited, but I’m not dying over here.  I could live like this.  I don’t love it, but worse things could happen.  “I don’t need to read a book about healing; I am just coming to terms with the new realities of my life.”

So I was at work the other day when my husband sent me a text asking if I was done with the book; our friend wanted it back. Gulp. No, I hadn’t actually started it.  Later in the day, my husband told me that we had been invited to this friend’s house for a family dinner — today.

Well, that was the nudge I needed.  I read about a hundred pages yesterday and picked up the book again when I got home from church today. Here’s what I have so far — the book does not outline a 12-step process that ‘guarantees’ healing; I don’t know why I thought it would.  It doesn’t tell me all the things I am doing wrong in my life or ways to change so that God will provide me with healing.  It doesn’t say that God will heal me; it does say that God can. 

Of course I knew that.  I have said that all along.  But, further, it challenges me to take a good long look at why I became sick in the first place — I have done this to a degree, but this gives me some additional areas to consider.  It also challenges me to examine my relationship with God and what I believe about Him.  I am fine with all of that, but I am getting to the sticky part of the healing prayer topic– you may have heard this language before, I know I have. Trusting God for healing. Using authoritative faith. Believing God for his promises.

Now, to be fair, I am judging the second half of the book before I have read it…and I am planning on giving the book back to its owner in just a few hours. I am not sure I will finish it.  So, why am I blogging instead of reading?  I think because I am not sure I want to totally invest myself in ‘believing for a miracle’.  I mean, I do tend to invest 100%.  And the book has already told me that God may choose not to heal me.  What if I ‘believe for a miracle healing’ and I don’t get it?  Will I be angry with God and give Him the silent treatment — again? I don’t know that I want to take that risk.  I think I would feel better about just accepting what I have been given, walking in this path, and not questioning it.

You know what I mean?

But nagging in the back of my mind is this thought — why don’t you just finish reading it?  will it kill you? is it possible that you could learn something or reshape your thinking? why are you so closed to this topic?

Ok, ok…I have another hour before we have to get in the car.  Let me read a little further and see what I find.  I’m trying not to be stubborn over here.  I’ll let you now what happens.

John 16:23-24

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name…

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Red-letter Day

Yesterday was what I like to call a red-letter day.  In fact, if I still kept a paper calendar I would get out a red sharpie and circle July 23, 2015 so that I would not forget it.

It started first thing in the morning.  I worked with my first student, who is autistic.  Just a few weeks ago it was difficult for him to describe any object beyond its color — usually black or blue — and its shape — typically a circle or a square.  Yesterday we looked at a small picture of a pile of nails.  I took the picture away and asked him what he had seen.  He said, “nails”,  of course. When I asked him what they looked like,  he said they had a circle on the top.  “Yes, good!” I said.  “What else?”  “They are sharp on the bottom.”  “Yes!”  Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for my little guy, it’s a pretty big deal.  He used a complete sentence and he moved beyond his generic descriptors to something more specific.  That, my friends, is worth marking on the calendar.

It didn’t stop there.  My second student has been known to be quite noncompliant — to the point of refusing to work, day after day after day.  Yesterday appeared, at first, to be another one of those days, but for some reason, we started our session with some talk about her toys and she began to work with me.  We were moving forward slowly in our lesson when one of the supervisors joined us to do some ‘pacing’ — this happens quite often.  The more senior members of the team come and interact with the students to push them a bit and determine how to best tweak their lessons for the most impact.  The supervisor asked me to do a task with the student.  I wasn’t quite sure of the method, so I invited her to show me her ‘special way’ of using the materials.  I was so glad that I did this — she made several changes in the setting and the climate of that lesson.  She worked with the student for about fifteen minutes.  I watched, took notes, and learned a whole lot about how to work with this difficult little peanut.

I had two more students before I left for the afternoon.  Walking to my car, I checked my phone for messages and emails.  We had been exchanging information with the financial aid office at our daughter’s university.  They wanted to verify some information we had submitted, so we had sent documents back and forth over the last few weeks.  It was exhausting and tedious, but we kept at it. When I saw an email from the officer we had been working with, I opened it to find that the school had decided to give her another huge chunk of grant money — so much, in fact, that she will not have to take one of the loans that she had been approved for!

Then, I received a text from another daughter who said that an employer had contacted her out of the blue and wanted to interview her over the phone — that day!  The position is almost a perfect fit for this particular daughter, her skill set, and her interests, and she hadn’t even applied for the position!

And the news kept coming!  It was like it was my birthday and people kept arriving with gifts that I wasn’t expecting — healing for this person, encouragement for that one, resolved conflict here, restored relationships there…

Late in the afternoon, my husband arrived home from work with the day’s mail.  He was carrying a package from my mother — I had mentioned that my rubbermaid containers kept disappearing, so she sent me a whole new set!

I am telling you, it was a red letter day!

So, I grabbed my dog and my phone and headed out for a walk.  I called my mom to thank her for the gift and I started telling her about all the good things that had happened yesterday.  I kept saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!”  She said, “I know it’s hard to believe, but just think of all the time you have spent praying for these things.  God says, if you ask for it, He will answer. I know you weren’t expecting Him to answer all in one day, but He answers whenever He wants to!”

Yes, He does!  Sometimes the answers trickle in so subtly that we might not even realize that they are answers to prayer.  They can slip by me unnoticed, and I take them for granted.  But, when He overwhelms me with answers all in one day, I can hardly ignore His work.  It took my breath away.

This morning, I did my devotion which I always follow with writing in my prayer journal.  I follow a pattern called PRAISE — Praise, Repentance,  Acknowledgement, Intercession, Supplication, and Equipping.  When I got to the Supplication section I recalled all the prayers I had written for ‘my people’ over the past several months.  My mother wasn’t wrong — they have been many.  I never doubted that God was hearing them; I never doubted that He had my people in the palm of His hand.  But it sure was wonderful to sit in amazement and watch so many answers all in one day.

Matthew 7:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Mentally Speaking

I’ve spent considerable space on this blog sharing my journey with my invisible illness -autoimmune disease, but very little space with another invisible malady I’ve wrestled with — mental illness.

Why is that?  Why am I so open with sharing about my physical struggles, but very closed about sharing those that are mental? Probably because some of you have already cringed or gasped — “Mental illness?  Really?” It’s not your fault; for generations struggles of the psychological kind have been steeped in stigma and judgment.  People ‘go crazy’, are ‘whacko’, and find their way to the ‘looney bin’. Right?  If we have struggles of a mental nature, we tend to keep them hush-hush.  You know, people won’t understand.

But do you know why people don’t understand?  Because everyone keeps it hush-hush.

Just recently a friend of mine recalled that back in the 1980s I was the first person she knew who openly shared my struggle with an eating disorder.  That’s right, I talked about it.  Why?  I had to.  I had kept my illness a secret and it had almost destroyed me.  Part of my recovery was to speak the truth of my struggle.  I didn’t have a lot of finesse.  I remember I was in the cafeteria line at college grabbing some fruit and a Diet Coke.  One of my professors said to me, “What’s the matter, are you anorexic?”  I looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes, I am.”  Poor guy, I doubt that he had any idea what I was struggling with until that moment.  Shortly thereafter, I resigned my RA position and moved off campus.  When people asked why, I said, “I have to deal with my eating disorder.”  I couldn’t hide it; I had to expose it.

More recently, I entered therapy for continuing depression.  In fact, I met with a psychotherapist for about eight years.  My time on a couch saved my life and improved the lives of almost everyone who interacted with me.  I am not one to put my personal life on blast, but if someone brought an issue to me or asked for my advice, I never hid the fact that I was in therapy and that it was the best investment I had ever made in my life.  Nor do I hide the fact that I take anti-depressants.  Why should I? If you are on antibiotics do you hide that?  How about blood pressure medication?  Of course not.  No one would judge you if you had a physical illness that required medication.  Nor should they judge you if you need a medical intervention for your mental health.

It’s 2015 and scientists have long ago proven a biological component to some types of depression.  In fact, there are genetic links to all kinds of mental illness.  No longer do we believe that mental illness is purely demonic.  That is not to say that the devil is not alive and well and wreaking havoc on all mankind — he is.  But he does it all in kinds of ways that don’t carry the same stigma as mental illness.

And here’s the thing, when we attach guilt or shame to mental illness, we give it more power than it should have.  Depression becomes depression plus shame.  Anxiety becomes anxiety plus guilt. If you’ve experienced mental illness, you know that it doesn’t stop there.  All kinds of emotions get attached to what could have been easily addressed as one issue.  The problem grows and the afflicted feels more and more helpless, draws into herself, and begins to feel that there is no way out.

That’s like letting a cold turn into bronchitis which complicates into pneumonia and lands you in the hospital!  What could have been treated with rest and fluids has become a life-threatening illness requiring acute care.

Sometimes that happens, though.  And, if you get pneumonia, you are rushed to the hospital, given IV antibiotics, and ordered to rest.  Friends and neighbors rush to your house with chicken soup, bouquets of flowers, and offers to help with the chores and the kids.  So why is it when mental illness reaches acute levels and — gasp — someone has to be hospitalized, we tiptoe around, whispering in hushed tones, trying to ‘not notice’ what is going on?  Doesn’t someone hospitalized for mental illness need just as much, if not more, help than someone hospitalized with a medical illness?

Yes, she does. And she shouldn’t be made to feel shame for it.

We are complex beings.  God created us with body, mind, and spirit.  Our bodies get sick.  Our minds get sick.  I would venture to say that our spirits get sick, too. Why? Because we are human and we live in a fallen world.  We will continue to struggle with imperfection until we die.

So, let’s not make it worse than it is, ok? Illness is illness.  It all needs a remedy.  We pray, yes.   We use the resources that God has put at our disposal.  And, whenever possible, we support one another through the difficult times.  Understood? Good.

I Thessalonians 5:23

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

We’re not all the same…

I’m sitting here today thinking about people. We –people, that is — spend a lot of time differentiating ourselves from others.  I am older than you. You are taller than me.  He is smarter.  She is prettier.  They are richer. We are whiter. You are conservative. I am liberal. He is straight. She is gay. We are continually looking for differences and trying to find a way to situate ourselves amid the masses.

It’s identity formation and clarification.  That’s all.  It’s a natural part of our development. It starts when we are young and, from what I can tell, it never stops.

I remember being a young girl and wanting to find friends who were just like me.  I wanted friends who enjoyed the same toys, the same music, and the same choices in clothing.  I found them!  They affirmed me!  They liked what I liked.  We had fun together!  We enjoyed each other.   That was fine.

Later when I went away to college, I discovered many people who were very different from me.  I didn’t understand them, and, at my loss, I mostly stayed away from them.  I continued to seek sameness and found security in hanging out with people who, for the most part, shared my values, my upbringing, my appearance, and my interests.

As I entered my professional life, I found myself thrust among people who were very different than me.  My students and coworkers were from different backgrounds — racially, financially, spiritually, and culturally. I didn’t have an option any longer to ‘stick to my own kind’.  I had to mingle.

Let me tell you what mingling has done for me — it has changed me.  Over the past couple of decades I have rubbed shoulders with all kinds of people.  They have challenged my thinking about almost every topic on earth. I have questioned my opinions on politics, education, religion, faith, sexuality, marriage, parenthood, finances, music, television, literature, media, law enforcement, and many other topics because of my relationships with people who are different from me.

No, I’m not wishy-washy. In fact, I’m pretty hard-headed.  I don’t change easily.  But questioning my opinions has sharpened me.  Questioning my opinions has made me address some internal bias.  Questioning my opinions has pushed me to seek God and his wisdom.

Here’s what I know: We were not all created the same.  God is creative — He made all kinds of people.  And here’s the thing, He never classified any human as greater than another – with the exception of Christ himself.  He didn’t say thinner was better than fatter.  He didn’t say richer was better than poorer.  He didn’t say male was better than female, or even, (gasp), that Republican was better than Democrat.  He created all things good — snakes and elephants, oceans and swamps, men and women, Asian and Hispanic, and on and on.

I, for one, have had to get off my high horse and admit that I am no better than another.  I have also had to scrape myself out of the gutter and say I am not less than any other.

I have had to remind myself that the most annoying student I work with is a child of God just as much as my most treasured friend is. I have had to learn that my viewpoint is not the only viewpoint. I have had to look through someone else’s glasses, even if I haven’t walked a mile in his shoes.

It’s not easy and it’s never done.  Just today I judged someone because I deemed him ‘spoiled and privileged.’ From my point of view, he is.  From someone else’s point of view, I am the one who is spoiled and privileged.

To be honest, I don’t know that other person’s story, just like they likely don’t know all of mine. I am imagining we could each learn a thing or two from one another.

We are not all the same, thank God.  We are, however, all loved by God.

For God so loved [every single person in] the world,

that He gave His only Son…

John 3:16

Hi, honey, I’m Home, Part 2, a clarification

I want to correct a little theology from yesterday.  I believe I said that God had immobilized me through my autoimmune disease.  That really makes it seem like He intended for me to have this disease.  I’m not sure about that.  In fact, I am sure that God created all things in His image — whole, healthy, sinless, perfect.  I am fairly confident that illness — all illness — is a result of sin.  I don’t understand it, that’s a fact, but I believe that God desires for all people to be well and whole.  In fact, I believe that one day I will be — on this side of eternity or the other.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because this morning,  during my self-imposed three-day-weekend of rest, I opened my Bible study for the second day in a row and read these words:

Remember that most of what God does is invisible — totally outside our realm of observation or understanding.  We cannot base our faith on what He appears to be doing or how dramatically He answers our prayers — because faith founded on God’s apparent actions is not faith at all (Moore, Whispers of Hope, 112).

When I say something like “God has immobilized me,” I am implying that I know what God was thinking and that I am sure that He is the one who ‘afflicted’ me with this illness.  I don’t know that.  Here’s what I do know.  Three years ago I began having symptoms that slowed me down, made me uncomfortable, and eventually put me in bed for large chunks of time. For about the first two years of that discomfort I tried to fight back.  I was angry, complaining, and searching for a fix to my problem.  (And, guys, I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t still welcome a fix to this problem.) But about a year ago, I shifted gears. God had provided a way for me to be still in this illness — he allowed me some time off from work and busyness.  In that stillness, He inserted time for me to write.  He inserted friends who included me in Bible study and prayer.  He provided resources that spoke directly to my need. He entered into my illness with me.

Now, I am not implying that He could not have entered into my busyness in a different way.  Not at all.  I am saying that once I was slowed down, for whatever reason, I was able to more clearly see His involvement in my life.  For that reason, I am thankful for my autoimmune disease.  I don’t love my autoimmune disease, but I am thankful for it.  And I believe that God will continue to work in this and all circumstances. I have no idea what He has planned, but I am confident that His plans are exponentially better than mine.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,…

Hi, honey, I’m home!

Really, I’m home.  I wasn’t supposed to be.  I was supposed to be in the car with my husband driving to St. Louis for a wedding.  But I’m sitting in a chair, in my pajamas, amid papers, books, and empty glasses and cups.

I overdid it.

I know, I know.  You saw this coming from a mile away.  Who did I think I was, agreeing to work so many hours and travel three weekends in a row?

A friend asked me yesterday when I planned to leave for my trip.  When I told her I wasn’t going, she looked shocked.  I get it.  From the outside I look fine.  Really.  It is only inside my house where I collapse in pajamas and let the fatigue and pain rise to the surface.  It’s the weirdest thing.

Each morning, when my alarm goes off, I have to convince myself to get out of bed.  It can take anywhere from five to twenty minutes.  (This is shocking to my husband who used to comment on how fast I leapt out of bed in the morning proclaiming, “Let’s go running!) Once I drag myself to my feet, the first few steps look like those of a double amputee trying out prosthetics for the first time — wobbly, jerky, and uncoordinated.  By the time I make it to the bathroom, my steps are getting smoother.  After a shower, a smoothie, and a cup of green tea, I have been magically transformed into the semblance of a professional educator.  I am dressed, my hair is combed, I have even put on makeup.

After the 15 minute drive to work, the second cup of tea — strong and black — is starting to work and I am energized and looking forward to my day.  Before I know it, I have worked with four students for an hour each and it is time for my lunch.  Typically I walk across the street to the mall, take a lap, get a second cup of strong black tea, and make my way back to work.

Amazingly, I have the clarity of mind to work with three or four more students before I clock out and stumble my way to the car.  Typically it is driven by a family member — partly because we are sharing a car, but partly because no one knows for sure if I will remember how to get home after a seven to eight hour work day.

Once inside my house, I shed professional attire and don one of two standards — pajamas or yoga pants.  If I have any steam left at all, I make myself go on a walk.  If I am totally depleted, I collapse with an ice pack on the couch. Dinner?  Totally optional.  By 5pm I care very little about food or drink.  I am mostly into the staring portion of my day where I play Words With Friends, ‘like’ Facebook posts, and watch junk television.

If I have any cognitive functioning left, I might read…but nothing too heady…mostly young adult fiction or Jodi Picoult.

Finally, I surrender to sleep, setting the alarm to start the process over again the next day.

That is my life with autoimmune disease.  It is very different from the life I once lived. It is frustrating, because the person inside of me still wants to take road trips to St. Louis, to hang out with friends in the evening, to go to the movies, to play cards, and to regularly hit the gym.

And I can still do all of those things, but not if I work full time.  That is the exchange.  I can either work full time and do nothing else, or I can agree to work only part-time and maintain some semblance of normalcy outside of work.

I already knew this, of course, even before this summer working experiment.  But I needed to see it again.

When I took six months off from work, I started feeling pretty well!  I was working out, taking care of myself, and interacting with friends.  I started to think I had just been exhausted and that I would be fine getting back to my old routines.  That is the trick of this invisible illness.  You can forget that you have it.  You even start to feel a bit like a baby because you put limits on yourself that don’t seem necessary to those looking on — “What do you mean you have to sit down for a little while?”  “You can’t go grocery shopping and out to the movies on the same day?” “You look just fine to me!”

A person with autoimmune disease has to trust herself and stand up for herself even when it doesn’t make sense to others.  Yes, I do have to sit, or lie, down for a while. No, I don’t like to plan two outings on the same day.  Yes, I do look fine, but you can’t see how I feel.

And right now, I feel exhausted.  So, I am home.

Last week, we visited our son’s church where the guest pastor said the words, “God will sometimes immobilize you in order to circumcise your heart.”  I wrote those words down.  My journey over the last three years has been all about recognizing that I had been moving so fast, kicking butts and taking names, that I had been failing to turn to God as my strength.  I’m not mad that He loved me enough to take all my strength — to immobilize me —  so that I would reconnect with Him.  But, old habits die hard; I will probably need to learn this lesson over time.

2 Corinthians 12:9

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.